In His message for World Mission Day this year, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of our indispensable calling to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. It is a Divine mandate received by the Apostles from the Risen Christ and handed down to us, the People of God. The Supreme Pontiff underlines furthermore what is reflected in the teachings of the Church that mission is “the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize” (EN 14).
In today’s fast-changing world, punctuated by an explosion in technological innovation, we are called to renew our commitment to the mission mandate of preaching the Good News of salvation. We are challenged to read critically the signs of times. We have to constantly search the new meanings of this mission and address its challenges juxtaposed with this digital generation. While the Gospel message remains the same, the mission field is constantly changing at an unprecedented pace. And so, we ask the inevitable questions: What is the mission field today where we need to bring the Word of God? How are we to incarnate the call to evangelize?
A pivotal mission field today is found in the many forms of media. Media are inescapable; they are everywhere, in places where one does not expect them to be. They have crept imperceptibly into our lives: at home, school, work, and in the Church. There is practically no place on earth where media are not able to penetrate! Our lives are full of media shadows. Mobile phones, television, radio, networks, have unknowingly melted into everyone’s life. The fact is that nobody is free from media. So our key task today is to bring the Gospel where media is! Where does one commence this Herculean task?
The mission field has changed dramatically and so do the ways of doing mission. Fortunately, the primary nook for missionary work remains the same: the family. Connecting Gospel values to the media must begin at home. Nowadays we really can say that our home is like a media jungle: mobiles ringing, television and radio sets competing, mp3s, ipods and ipads playing the latest tunes; the list seems endless. In the end the focus is the person not the means of communications; it is the user and not the gadgets. Therefore, we seek to evangelize those who are living in this media jungle. It is not our mission today to fight media, but to make use of media as tools for total human development which is at the heart of the Gospel. Today, it is paramount that the Gospel be enshrined and given a prominent corner at home where media is imposing itself unquestioned in the guise of “need” or “necessity.”
At play in and around this media jungle are all of us, but most specially one finds here the young generation—the youth. The late Pope John Paul II was a kind of hero of the youth, because he was their prophet; he understood their cravings to be connected; he shared their anxieties of being caught up in the intricate web of a media-mediated world. This is the reason why social networks such as facebook and twitter, although popular for all ages, are a phenomenal hit among the youth. Just like the mobile phone, these social networks become an extension of themselves. It is impossible for them to be unplugged from media for this would mean losing a significant part of themselves. For many youth today to be without media would be an experience akin to being marginalized.
The Gospel today speaks of those invited to the wedding feast that are not properly dressed. Generally these persons are most of us, eager to join the fold and yet not really properly disposed. More strikingly, these people are our youth with their unbridled enthusiasm floating along with the currents of this technology-savvy age. The youth need special care as distractions are everywhere in this high-tech generation. They need to be “properly dressed” not with the “glamour and glitz” of having the latest media gadgets in the market, but by the values of the Gospel: love, service, generosity, sacrifice, forgiveness, to name only a few. We need to satisfy their hunger and longing for the spiritual and the divine in the midst of the onrush of technological influx. Let us set their hearts on fire with the love of the Word of God. Let us endeavour to purify with Gospel values their desires to be connected to one another. In other words, let us cultivate once more love and devotion for the Word of God in our homes, in our families.
This is our mission today. This is the meaning of being sent by the Son today. This is evangelization in the 21st century!
Father Bobby M. Ebisa, SVD, is the General Manager of Radio Veritas Asia in Novaliches.